Friday, November 05, 2010

The GOP civil war will be televised Media Matters WEEKLY Updater

Everything on Election Day went pretty much as expected. Republicans are up, Democrats are down, and Dick Morris once again looks like a fool. But as big as Tuesday was politically, it lacked, as have past midterms, a feeling of punctuation.
No sooner had the House changed hands than speculation began on 2012 Republican presidential candidates. This is in large part due to the obsessive political media (GOP pollster Rasmussen has already polled the likely matchups). One election cycle ends, and the next immediately begins.

And while we're still about 14 months from the first votes being cast in the 2012 elections, we're nonetheless going to get a protracted and dramatic look at the selection process for the Republican nomination. All we have to do is switch on Fox News.

The Murdoch network currently has on its payroll no fewer than four right-wingers whose names consistently pop up in discussions of President Obama's putative GOP challengers: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee. Fox also frequently hosts former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, whose name has been tossed around as a dark-horse candidate. As the election cycle coverage heats up, Fox will be forced to make some awkward choices in how it covers the campaigns of their colleagues.

And the trouble has already begun.

While not a candidate himself, Fox News' Karl Rove will be a key player in the 2012 GOP primaries, largely through his Wall Street-funded Republican piggy bank, American Crossroads. One can speculate as to which candidate he prefers, but one doesn't have to guess who he doesn't want to challenge Obama -- Fox News' Sarah Palin.

The feud between these two has been simmering since Palin injected herself into the Republican primaries of various Senate campaigns and helped Tea Party candidates snatch nominations from more electable Republicans, only to see them lose in the general election (see: Sharron Angle and, if trends hold, Joe Miller.)

But no candidate better represented the Rove-Palin rift than Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, who secured the nomination on the strength of Palin's endorsement and then bombed in the general. Not long after O'Donnell was minted as the nominee, Rove said (on Fox) that she did not "evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness" and that the race had become unwinnable.
Those remarks earned him a keel hauling from the right-wing media. Palin, for her part, said (also on Fox) that everyone who thought O'Donnell couldn't win needed to "buck up" and put aside their "egos."

As the Senate looked more and more like it would stay in Democratic hands, Rove and Palin quit fighting through proxies and just started bashing each other. Last week, the U.K. Telegraph reported that Rove trashed Palin's new reality TV program and "said it was unlikely that voters would regard someone starring in a reality show as presidential material." The article also quoted Rove saying Palin lacks "a certain level of gravitas."

Palin, as we all know, thrives on victimhood and will never fail to respond to any criticism, no matter how slight or imagined. She fired back at Rove (again on Fox News) by suggesting he is "threatened" and "paranoid." She also compared herself to Ronald Reagan, though he was a TV star before he was politician, not the other way around.
A couple of days later (on Fox News) she lobbed a nonspecific attack at "these Neanderthals, these goofballs, these nitwits" who were attacking her in the press.

Rove is, of course, not without allies in this fight. His former Bush administration colleagues -- like speechwriter Michael Gerson and, reportedly, W. himself -- don't think much of Palin as a candidate. He also has the support of Fox News colleague Mort Kondracke, who blamed Palin for the Republican failure to capture the Senate and called her "a joke even within her own party."
His problem is that Palin also has allies -- namely, the louder corners of the right-wing media. Having already earned their wrath over his O'Donnell criticism, Rove apologized to Palin (once again, on Fox News), saying he "didn't mean any offense" in criticizing her reality program.

Palin also has the tea party firmly in her corner, and Rove has to respect that. Even though several of her anointed Senate candidates were wiped out on Tuesday, the fact that they were even in a position to lose is a testament to Palin's political clout. And so Rove has to thread the needle of making Palin an unacceptable choice for the nomination while not alienating her powerful base of support. So he attacks Christine O'Donnell, and then apologizes. He attacks Palin, and then apologizes.

In the middle of all this is Fox News. The network was going to be a battleground for the nomination regardless, given that they essentially operate as a shadow RNC and willingly offer their airwaves to Republican candidates looking to do a little fundraising. And they've already launched a series of candidate profiles called "12 in '12." But having numerous potential candidates on their payroll complicates things even further.

Palin's being coy about her presidential prospects, but the millions of dollars Fox News pays her (and the Alaska-based studio they built for her) will undoubtedly prove useful should she choose to toss in her hat. Rove isn't running, but he nonetheless will have a dog in the fight and financial interests wrapped up in the race, and Fox is paying him for -- ahem -- "independent" political analysis.

And then there's Huckabee, who ingratiates himself to potential voters and key GOP officials with each episode of his Fox News program. One can never tell whether Newt Gingrich's threats to run for president are genuine or just a ploy to sell books, and if Santorum runs he'll have some interesting hurdles to clear, but having a paid platform to get their messages out certainly doesn't hurt. Just this week Santorum gushed about how great it is that Republicans have Fox News to "get a message out."

There are interests conflicting all over the place, and what we're seeing now with Palin and Rove is a situation where political figures are appearing on a news channel to attack one another and defend their interests, and being paid for it by that same news channel. When you mix that in with parent company News Corp.'s newfound willingness to openly donate huge sums of cash to partisan GOP outfits, you have an ethical morass that borders on comical.

Fox's past response to their (many) ethical lapses has been to pretend that nothing's wrong. But this is a bigger breach of journalistic ethics than anything they've done before, and whether they can continue to play dumb remains to be seen.

But one thing's for sure: The road to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination runs right through Fox News.


Foxconn worker plunges to death at China plant

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Another worker has committed suicide at the south China manufacturing complex of iPhone maker Foxconn International Holdings Ltd, state media reported on Friday, the latest in a string of employees who have leapt to their deaths this year.

The employee "fell to death" early on Friday at one of Foxconn's manufacturing facilities in the southern Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The death was confirmed by the municipal government. No further information was immediately available," Xinhua said.

A Foxconn spokesman was not available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Neither Shenzhen's municipal government nor local police had any immediate comment or further details.

Labour rights groups say there have been at least 13 suicides at Foxconn factories across China this year, not including Friday's fatality.

The incident comes months after several Foxconn workers, mostly in Shenzhen, died after jumping from buildings in the company's plants earlier this year.

Many of those were young migrant workers, among the millions who leave the poor hinterlands of China for the booming factory towns of coastal areas in search of work and higher wages.

The deaths threw an awkward spotlight on the labor practices of Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, whose clients include Apple Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co and Sony Ericsson.

Since then, the company has pledged to improve work conditions, increase pay, reduce overtime hours and build a string of giant new manufacturing complexes in inland provinces such as Henan to allow workers to live closer to home, and tap cheaper labor costs.


Keith Olbermann Suspended from MSNBC

Keith Olbermann has been suspended indefinitely without pay from MSNBC for making donations to three Democrats in violation of NBC's ethics policy.

"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night," Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC, said in a statement. "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Olbermann, who does not hide his liberal views, has acknowledged donations of $2,400 each to Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords during this election cycle.

NBC's ethics policy generally bars political activity, including contributions, without the approval of the president of NBC News, Steve Capus, according to a 2007 story on

"Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest," it says. "Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee."

In a statement to Politico, which first reported the donations, that was released before the suspension was announced, Olbermann said: "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level."

The candidates Olbermann donated to had mixed results. Conway lost his race to Tea Party-backed Republican Rand Paul, but both Grijalva and Giffords lead in tight races that CBS News has not yet projected. All three appeared on Olbermann's show, and Grijalva has appeared multiple times.

As Politico notes, Olbermann and MSNBC President Phil Griffin have been critical of Fox News over its two $1 million donations to Republican and Republican-leaning groups during the midterm election cycle.

On October 7th, in reference to the Fox News donations, Olbermann asked House Majority Whip James Clyburn if there is a legislative response available when a cable news network "goes beyond having a point of view and actually starts to shill for partisan causes and actually starts to donate to partisan groups of one party."

MSNBC has cast itself as a liberal alternative to the conservative Fox News channel, a move that has helped the network improve its ratings, though not to the level of Fox News.

Liberal media watchdog Media Matters claims that "During the 2009-2010 election cycle, more than 30 Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances."

Many of these personalities are contributors like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, not hosts, however, and not all of them gave money to candidates. Asked for a situation comparable to Olbermann, Media Matters pointed to Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and MIke Huckabee, among others. Hannity donated $5,000 to Rep. Michele Bachmann's political action committee and pledged donations to other candidates, and Huckabee's political action committee has given to a variety of candidates.

The MSNBC story above detailing newsroom ethics rules says Fox News allows campaign contributions that do not come from corporate funds.

"Personal involvement in political activity is permitted as long as the activity does not interfere with or impair the performance of the employee's duties for the Company," says the company's 2007 ethics policy.

Rasmussen Polls Were Biased and Inaccurate

Rasmussen Polls Were Biased and Inaccurate;
Quinnipiac, SurveyUSA Performed Strongly

Every election cycle has its winners and losers: not just the among the candidates, but also the pollsters.

On Tuesday, polls conducted by the firm Rasmussen Reports — which released more than 100 surveys in the final three weeks of the campaign, including some commissioned under a subsidiary on behalf of Fox News — badly missed the margin in many states, and also exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.

Other polling firms, like SurveyUSA and Quinnipiac University, produced more reliable results in Senate and gubernatorial races. A firm that conducts surveys by Internet, YouGov, also performed relatively well.

What follows is a preliminary analysis of polls released to the public in the final 21 days of the campaign. Our process here is quite simple: we’ve taken all such polls in our database, and assessed how accurate they were, on average, in predicting the margin separating the two leading candidates in each race. For instance, a poll that had the Democrat winning by 2 percentage points in a race where the Republican actually won by 4 would have an error of 6 points.

We’ve also assessed whether a company’s polls consistently missed in either a Democratic or Republican direction — that is, whether they were biased. The hypothetical poll I just described would have had a 6 point Democratic bias, for instance.

The analysis covers all polls issued by firms in the final three weeks of the campaign, even if a company surveyed a particular state multiple times. In our view, this provides for a more comprehensive analysis than focusing solely on a firm’s final poll in each state, since polling has a tendency to converge in the final days of the campaign, perhaps because some firms fear that their results are an outlier and adjust them accordingly.

(After a couple of weeks, when results in all races have been certified, we’ll update our official pollster ratings, which use a more advanced process that attempts to account, for instance, for the degree of difficulty in polling different types of races.)

The 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points, a considerably higher figure than that achieved by most other pollsters. Some 13 of its polls missed by 10 or more points, including one in the Hawaii Senate race that missed the final margin between the candidates by 40 points, the largest error ever recorded in a general election in FiveThirtyEight’s database, which includes all polls conducted since 1998.

Moreover, Rasmussen’s polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen’s polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases — that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued.

If one focused solely on the final poll issued by Rasmussen Reports or Pulse Opinion Research in each state — rather than including all polls within the three-week interval — it would not have made much difference. Their average error would be 5.7 points rather than 5.8, and their average bias 3.8 points rather than 3.9.

Nor did it make much difference whether the polls were branded as Rasmussen Reports surveys, or instead, were commissioned for Fox News by its subsidiary Pulse Opinion Research. (Both sets of surveys used an essentially identical methodology.) Polls branded as Rasmussen Reports missed by an average of 5.9 points and had a 3.9 point bias. The polls it commissioned on behalf of Fox News had a 5.1 point error, and a 3.6 point bias.

Rasmussen’s polls have come under heavy criticism throughout this election cycle, including from FiveThirtyEight. We have critiqued the firm for its cavalier attitude toward polling convention. Rasmussen, for instance, generally conducts all of its interviews during a single, 4-hour window; speaks with the first person it reaches on the phone rather than using a random selection process; does not call cellphones; does not call back respondents whom it misses initially; and uses a computer script rather than live interviewers to conduct its surveys. These are cost-saving measures which contribute to very low response rates and may lead to biased samples.

Rasmussen also weights their surveys based on preordained assumptions about the party identification of voters in each state, a relatively unusual practice that many polling firms consider dubious since party identification (unlike characteristics like age and gender) is often quite fluid.

Rasmussen’s polls — after a poor debut in 2000 in which they picked the wrong winner in 7 key states in that year’s Presidential race — nevertheless had performed quite strongly in in 2004 and 2006. And they were about average in 2008. But their polls were poor this year.

The discrepancies between Rasmussen Reports polls and those issued by other companies were apparent from virtually the first day that Barack Obama took office. Rasmussen showed Barack Obama’s disapproval rating at 36 percent, for instance, just a week after his inauguration, at a point when no other pollster had that figure higher than 20 percent.

Rasmussen Reports has rarely provided substantive responses to criticisms about its methodology. At one point, Scott Rasmussen, president of the company, suggested that the differences it showed were due to its use of a likely voter model. A FiveThirtyEight analysis, however, revealed that its bias was at least as strong in polls conducted among all adults, before any model of voting likelihood had been applied.

Some of the criticisms have focused on the fact that Mr. Rasmussen is himself a conservative — the same direction in which his polls have generally leaned — although he identifies as an independent rather than Republican. In our view, that is somewhat beside the point. What matters, rather, is that the methodological shortcuts that the firm takes may now be causing it to pay a price in terms of the reliability of its polling.


The table below presents results for the eight companies in FiveThirtyEight’s database that released at least 10 polls of gubernatorial and Senate contests into the public domain in the final three weeks of the campaign, and which were active in at least two states.

The most accurate surveys were those issued by Quinnipiac University, which missed the final margin between the candidates by 3.3 points, and which showed little overall bias.

The next-best result was from SurveyUSA, which is among the highest-rated firms in FiveThirtyEight’s pollster rankings: it missed the margin between the candidates by 3.5 points, on average.

SurveyUSA also issued polls in a number of U.S. House races, missing the margin between the candidates by an average of 5.2 points. That is a comparatively good score: individual U.S. House races are generally quite difficult to poll, and the typical poll issued by companies other than SurveyUSA had missed the margin between the candidates by an average of 7.3 points.

In some of the house races that it polled, SurveyUSA’s results had been more Republican-leaning than those of other pollsters. But it turned out that it had the right impression in most of those races — anticipating, for instance, that the Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar could easily lose his race, as he eventually did.

YouGov, which conducts its surveys through Internet panels, also performed fairly well, missing the eventual margin by 3.5 points on average — although it confined its polling to a handful of swing races, in which polling is generally easier because of high levels of voter engagement.

Other polling firms that joined Rasmussen toward the bottom of the chart were Marist College, whose polls also had a notable Republican bias, and CNN/Opinion Research, whose polls missed by almost 5 points on average. Their scores are less statistically meaningful than that for Rasmussen Reports, however, because they had only released surveys in 14 and 17 races, respectively, as compared to Rasmussen’s 105 polls.

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